December 20, 2014

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NASA Glenn’s chips beat the heat

CLEVELAND — NASA Glenn Research Center is breaking records with computer chips that can withstand intense heat, giving researchers hope that a spacecraft might even reach Venus someday.

NASA Glenn researchers have been developing chips for many years, but had a couple of breakthroughs in recent months with chips still performing after more than 2,300 hours cooking in ovens. They continue to reply to signals at 932 degrees Fahrenheit.

Such heat-resistant chips could find real-life applications in rockets, oil drills, fire sensors, cars and other as-yet unknown things that might get faster, safer and steadier when guided by Glenn’s sturdier chips, said Philip Neudeck, who leads the research. Now the researchers are waiting to see how long the chips last.

“Everything has a life,” Neudeck said. “You just don’t know it.”

Four tiny chips, about one to 2 millimeters wide and long, entered an oven on June 28. Another three entered a second oven at later dates. At last report, all seven were still responding to signals.

NASA Glenn, which is helping to design a new space vehicle dubbed Orion, has had a lot of breakthroughs recently, and last month announced a 20-year master plan to make it ready for the space challenges of the future.